CSE biomedical engineering associate professor Zhi Yang shakes hands with research participant Cameron Slavens, who tested out the researchers' robotic arm system. (Credit: Neuroelectronics Lab, University of Minnesota)

A more accurate, less-invasive technology allows amputees to move a robotic arm using their brain signals instead of their muscles. Researchers have created a small, implantable device that attaches to the peripheral nerve in a person’s arm. When combined with an artificial intelligence computer and a robotic arm, the device can read and interpret brain signals, allowing upper limb amputees to control the arm using only their thoughts.

A big part of what makes the system work so well compared to similar technologies is the incorporation of artificial intelligence, which uses machine learning to help interpret the signals from the nerve.

Right now, the system requires wires that come through the skin to connect to the exterior AI interface and robotic arm. But, if the chip could connect remotely to any computer, it would give humans the ability to control their personal devices—a car or phone, for example—with their minds.